Alex Holmes’s review published on Letterboxd:
scavenger hunt 52
task 15: a film you think would be PERFECT to see at a drive-in theater.
"Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood" is definitely a Quentin Tarantino picture, and it doesn't let you forget it by the end. Be that as it may, it's safe to call it the most un-Tarantino-esque work in his eclectic filmography. It's stylized, but there aren't whip zooms. It's violent, but easily his least violent film. The film is not driven by character or story, but setting. And in doing so, Tarantino creates his most lifelike and vibrant story, filled to the brim with famous actors in bit parts and 1969 cultural references so deep that it would take a professional miner to find them all.
Most comparable to "Pulp Fiction" in its non-story with an ensemble that weaves itself between different characters (though not as satisfyingly connected as that film), "Once Upon a Time", it is immediately clear, is an ode to the movies. I don't know exactly what Tarantino is saying about them (a re watch will be helpful), but I know it's something good. Tarantino has always used classical works as jumping off points and homage-inspirations, but here, he pays tribute to his favorite films in the most on-the-nose way possible. It's the closest he's ever gotten to a "Ready Player One"-style "hey, I remember that movie..."
What saves him and his film are two things. First, an affinity for the obscure (self-explanatory), and second, real purpose. The references are not meant as distraction but as detail. The director recreates 1969 Los Angeles in meticulous detail, so that his fictional and real characters inhabit the most fully realized world in Tarantino's oeuvre ever.
Where most directors might cheat and hope to skate by on their time period's physical authenticity alone (looking at you, "Captain Marvel"), Tarantino's world feels real because of the actions that take place within it. I can't remember the last time driving in a movie felt so real. Perhaps it's because of the practical effects, the physical locations, or the perfect soundtrack. Whatever the cause, Tarantino wanted to, and did, create his most grounded film.
The film feels like a romp through Los Angeles circa 1969. It may feel plotless, and that's the point. The auteur feels free to sit back and follow his brilliant characters through their travails. And brilliant they are.
Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) may be the most emotionally complex character of Tarantino's next to Django. A "has been" actor struggling to find work and get recognized, Dalton is mostly scared of this ever-changing world in front of him. The hippie invasion terrifies Dalton, along with the fact that he may be all washed up and nobody wants him anymore except for roles as the "heavies" (villains for the hero to knock out in Westerns).
DiCaprio gives one of his best performances, drawing on a deep well of inspiration that seems to get deeper the further along the movie goes. He imbues a "loser" character with gravitas as well as real comedy. His timing is excellent and his manic desperation hilarious. DiCaprio's acting as the actor is tremendous as well. When a little girl who is acting next to Dalton tells him "that was the best acting I've seen in my life", she isn't far from the mark.
Brad Pitt complements DiCaprio as Cliff Booth, Dalton's stunt double. Booth is the epitome of cool, and Pitt certainly helps by exuding cool in every scene. He's the man with the plan and always knows just what to do. He's out of work, too, and his blossoming friendship with Dalton is the central relationship, perhaps even theme, of the film.
I could go on and on about this movie, but it's getting late and I'm getting tired so here are some quick thoughts:
The cinematography is insanely controlled and incredibly directed. Not as flashy as his other work, but the compositions are relentlessly perfect and the crane shots beautiful.
The editing is near flawless. The movie knows just when to cut in every scene, from dialogue scenes that are never shot, reverse-shot to comedic interludes.
The movie is fittingly funny. Often gut-busting and always at least chuckle-inducing, one never goes too long without a crisply delivered joke or rambunctious edit.
Soundtrack = perfection.
Margot Robbie doesn't have a lot to do as Sharon Tate, but she's really good in the scenes she's in. Her dancing alone is incredible acting.
Loved this, will definitely re watch in near future, best movie of the year (so far). Shoe in for a Best Pic nod.